Jill Turton tracks down newly opened Stuzzi and takes a seat with the hipster cognoscenti of Harrogate.
Courtesy of a reliable foodie tipster, we hit on Stuzzi within a week of it opening. It was impressively packed despite having no website, no advertising or press release that I’d seen, not even a landline (though they’ve since had one installed). That’s the power of Twitter and Facebook, I guess.
So to bring you up to speed through the ancient means of print, this hip new opening is a no-booking operation, day- to-evening, café-cum-deli, with a serious wine list, reasonable prices and extremely promising delivery of impeccably sourced Italian treats.
Did I say hip in Harrogate? Well, with Feria, Norse, West Park Hotel and now Stuzzi all opening in 2014, Harrogate can make a fair case for being Yorkshire’s food town of the year. It’s had enough doldrum years in the past.
Certainly visitors to the Harrogate Conference Centre are in for an unsuspected treat when they cross King’s Road for a mid-morning break to find proper espresso and a Zeppole, a curly doughnut with Amalfi lemon and cinnamon sugar.
Or a brunch comprising Sicilian fennel sausage sandwiches slathered in Neopolitan tomato sauce and packed inside a crusty roll with some dressed baby spinach on the side, or baked eggs with tomato, cheese and toasted Barone bread.
The dinner menu changes daily but may pack in arancini; frito misto; beef and mortadella meatballs; chicken stuffed with Italian sausage and wrapped in pancetta; aged pecorino and smoked paprika croquettes with salsa verde; braised octopus with potato and chilli salad; grey mullet with pine nuts, white wine vinegar and grapes.
You can shop here, too, with shelves stuffed with single estate olive oils, dried pasta, sauces and condiments, a fridge stocked with salamis and a counter overflowing with bread, cheese, flouncy meringues and chocolate cakes.
Behind all this are four young guys: Nick Harvey, Tom Pierson, Jimbob and James Waters. No, not very Italian. They’re from Leeds and their inspiration for Stuzzi comes from the Headingley institution of Salvo’s, run by the Dammone brothers, John and Gip.
In particular, a few doors from Salvo’s, is the Dammones’ Salumeria, a relaxed cafe and deli that is good for morning coffee and biscotti and which by late morning is rich with the smells of ragu, caponata and polpette being prepared for lunch. Each week a pallet of produce arrives from Italy containing Italian cheeses, salamis, Pachino tomatoes, Puglian peppers, artichokes, baby aubergines, aged Pecorino, Sicilian wines and olive oils.
So the similarity between Stuzzi and Salumeria is not hard to spot and it’s no surprise to learn that all four lads worked at Salumeria and were marinated in John and Gip’s zeal for Italian food and its provenance before deciding to fly the nest.
First they needed to sharpen their knowledge so with tents and sleeping bags they took off on a budget four- month odyssey through Italy travelling to Bologna, Lucca, Rome, Abruzzo, Venice and countless other places, absorbing the stories of the regional food of Italy, its provenance and linking up with suppliers. Passionate is the most overused word in the food business but this road trip might just qualify.
The end result is Stuzzi owes nothing to interior designers but everything to their own hard work and inspired eBay finds. The lights came from an art deco hotel in Nottingham, the counter from a school chemistry lab, the toilets were a tenner from Wentworth Hall and the fridge was a bargain £75 from a cafe in Rosedale. The floor is bare concrete, the tables fibreboard and the chairs old school. It’s pretty cool and within a week it looked like Harrogate’s hottest place to see and be seen.
Our lunch began with potato and pancetta soup, thick but not too thick, with the warmth and comfort of potato and a good stock. There was no obvious pancetta unless it had been ground up in the puree but the soup was flavoursome, lifted by a dose of fresh, green olive oil and a dusting of Parmesan.
Two pasta dishes of the day offered trofie – the short twisty one – served with crunchy green beans, flecks of tomato, pesto and more of that olive oil. Or seafood linguine stacked with prawns, clams, whitebait and baby octopus – a generous and gloriously fishy bowlful. At either £4.95 or £8.95 it was the steal of the year.
Then two spoons for a glorious chocolate tort, a mini flower pot of chocolate, ground almonds and macerated cherries. Beautifully moist and topped with Gelupo (London’s top Italian ice cream maker) gelato, for a cool contrast to the warm tort and served with an Amaretto sauce. Result.
We drank crisp Ascheri Gavi di Gavi by the glass from a tantalising list that also had half a dozen Italian beers and soft drinks including Cedrata tassoni soda, the iconic Italian citron drink.
The white Barone bread is made on the premises I’m told by chef Jim Waters, affectionately known as Barone, the Baron of Baking. The coffee that comes out of a fancy Italian La Marzocco machine is excellent and the two of us still had change from £40.
If not exactly a clone of Salumeria, Stuzzi rings a lot of familiar bells and it must have been a body blow for the Dammones to lose four dedicated staff in one fell swoop. But Gip and John are generous, big-hearted guys and if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, they should be flattered.
And if you’re not on Twitter here are the best contact details to date:
• Stuzzi, 46B King’s Road, Harrogate, www.facebook.com/pages/Stuzzi, 01423 705852
Open: Tuesday to Saturday 8am- 10pm; Sunday 10am-4pm, closed Mondays.
Price: Approx £15 per person plus wine and coffee